songs you don’t know: “Merican”, The Descendents

04 Nov

Well, we’re here.  It’s Election Day, 2008.   I voted, because Democracy rules.

Let me qualify the word “rules” here.  Democracy rules, in theory, because you rule.  You get to show up, you get to tell the people what you want, and the majority rules.  It’s totally simple, provided people a) show up, and b) know what they’re doing.

The last one’s tricky.  I like the idea of everyone voting.  At the same time, democracy only works if everyone who’s voting knows what they’re talking about, and what they’re doing.  In other words: even though I’m an Obama supporter of the first degree, it’s cool if you wanna vote for McCain cuz he’s a war hero and you like his tax policies and Palin reminds you of your Mom or whatever.  If you’re voting for him because you think Obama’s going to raise your taxes (and you happen to make less than $250,000 a year), we have a problem.  If you’re voting for him because you think the other guy’s secretly in league with terrorist socialists (wrap your brain around that one, folks), we have a biiiig problem.   That’s not the “well-informed citizenry”  Jefferson was talking about – that’s a mob of idiots.

Granted, Jefferson talked some serious smack about Adams back in his day.  Jefferson’s men called Adams “a hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” This is, if you’re wondering, the Colonial Era equivalent of Ann Coulter calling John Edwards a “total faggot.”

Jefferson and Adams: dangerous radicals without flag pins.

In response, Adams’s men called Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father,” This is, again, the 1800 equivalent of… well… just about every e-mail you’ve gotten from your Aunt Betsy over the past year about Obama.

Forty years later, William Henry Harrison’s men ragged on Martin Van Buren for being an old, out of touch, rich dude.  Wonder how many houses Van Van The Used Up Man had?

Now, Harrison himself was a college educated, upper-middle class guy who just happened to be a war hero, but the Whig party basically got him elected by telling people he lived in a log cabin and drank hard cider all the time.  He was, in short, wicked hardcore.  He was so wicked hardcore that he gave his inaugural address without a coat on the coldest day of the year, and died of pneumonia a month later.

By the way:  before he became everyone’s favorite dead President, Harrison’s men used to roll a giant tin-and-paper ball through the town, covered with slogans and patriotic awesome-ness.  That’s how they campaigned back in the days before robo-calls.  This is where the expression “Keep The Ball Rolling” came from.  I mention this because it gives me the opportunity to post the following caption to the following photo, from a historical re-enactment they held last spring down in Longmeadow, MA:

Weve Got The Biggest Balls Of Them All!

William Henry Harrison: HE'S GOT THE BIGGEST.... BALLS OF THEM ALL!!!!

So, anyway, “informed citizenry.”  If you’re voting for a guy because he drinks hard cider and kills Injuns, I’m not sure if I want you voting.  You’ve got every right to vote, of course, and my civic duty is to tell you that you should go out there and cast your ballot, but… dude.  Really?  This is the Presidency we’re talking about here.  I don’t want a President I can have a beer with.  I want a President who’s going to be too busy doing his job to have a beer with me.   Frankly, I’d be happy having a beer with either John or Barack – both seem like really interesting guys, and mmmmm, beeeeer – but Sen. Obama happens to be the guy I want as my President.  (I’ll tell you why in my next post.)

So: The Descendents.  Punk band from LA known for its seminal 1982 album Milo Goes To College and its minor mid-90s hit, “I’m The One.”   Their record Cool To Be You came out in 2004, just in time for that election, and featured the single “”Merican,”  which sums up how some of us feel about this country.   Liberals love America.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – they’re either trying to get your vote or your money.  Love is always a complicated thing.  My love for America is as unconditional as a child’s love for his mother, but if Mom robs a bank, the child has every right to be upset.  Or, as The Descendents put it:

I come from the land of Ben Franklin
Twain and Poe and Walt Whitman
Otis Redding, Ellington,
The country that I love
But it’s a land of the slaves and the ku klux klan
Haymarket riot and the great depression
Joe McCarthy, Vietnam
The sickest joke I know

I don’t think America’s a sick joke, myself.  I do understand, however, that it is a land of conflicted feelings.  The best Americans understand this.  Mark Twain loved this country but made a living out of exposing its failings, mostly comedically, but sometimes (in books like Huck Finn) starkly.  Martin Luther King loved this country and criticized its racial policies, and made it better.  Lincoln loved his country but despised the practice of slavery – he fought to re-capture the half of the country that practiced the sort of thing he hated.  The Founding Fathers didn’t hate England, they just hated having to pay taxes and kiss up to someone thousands of miles away who didn’t listen to them.   Almost every single great American became great by asking “what can we do better?”  Was Susan B. Anthony un-American?  Was FDR?  Was Jackie Robinson?  People called them traitors, and worse, at the time, and now our kids learn about them in schools.  Even Mark Ayres, who our kids probably won’t be learning about,  doesn’t exactly hate America – just the Pentagon.

The point of Election Day is that we have control over this country, ultimately, and that’s reason number one I love America.   I love the idea of America, I love our possibilities, and I love that we’ve been a place for “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.”  If there are problems with it – and there are many – I love the fact that we will eventually overcome them.  History’s told us that.  As Bill Clinton once said “There’s nothing wrong with America that can’t be fixed by what’s right with America.”

So there.

Frank Navetta, original guitarist for The Descendents, passed away on Halloween.  He didn’t play on this particular song, but I’m dedicating it to his memory anyway – it’s a good Election Day tune, I think you’ll agree.   Trippmasters, on YouTube, put together a slide show about the song, which is what we’ve got for ya here.

Vote.  Also, if you like the punk rock music, I highly recommend both Milo Goes To College (the album every So-Cal punk band has wanted to write since 1982) and the more recent ‘Merican EP, which I’m listening to right now, which proves that even 40-something year olds can be punk as f**k.

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Posted by on November 4, 2008 in Uncategorized


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